Kal Penn tells PEOPLE he wanted to share his love story with readers in his new book You Can’t Be Serious
Those who follow and are familiar with actor Kal Penn know that he’s an accomplished actor on TV and film (House, Designated Survivor, the Harold and Kumar film franchise) and that he spent two years working in the White House for the Obama administration.
What most may not know is that Penn, 44, has been in a relationship with his partner Josh for 11 years and the couple is engaged.
In his new book You Can’t Be Serious, the actor shares the story of how he and Josh met and fell in love when Penn was living in Washington D.C. and tells PEOPLE about his decision to share their relationship with audiences.
“I’ve always been very public with everybody I’ve personally interacted with. Whether it’s somebody that I meet at a bar, if Josh and I are out or we’re talking to friends,” Penn says. “I’m really excited to share our relationship with readers. But Josh, my partner, my parents, and my brother, four people who I’m closest to in the family, are fairly quiet. They don’t love attention and shy away from the limelight.”
The Designated Survivor star says he wanted to be transparent and truthful in his book, without compromising the privacy of his loved ones.
“Figuring out the narrative [in the book], of how to respect who they really are, with telling my story — that includes: my work life, both in Hollywood and DC, it includes my love life with Josh and how we met, it includes my parents, to the extent that I’m willing to share stories about their upbringing,” he says. “So that was the most important thing for me. I wanted my story to be authentic from my perspective and told in a way that makes you feel like you really get to know me.”
In You Can’t Be Serious, Penn details his first date with Josh and is shocked that his future partner a) arrived at his apartment with an 18-pack of Coors Light and b) instantly switched the TV to watch NASCAR.
“I thought, ‘This obviously is not going to work out,” he recalls. “I have one day off from The White House and this dude is unironically watching cars go around and make left turns? Next thing you know, it’s been a couple of months and we’re watching NASCAR every Sunday. I’m like, ‘What is happening?’ I wanted the reader to enjoy the love and the humor through all of those stories.”
Penn continues: “The whole point of writing this book was for the reader to feel like we’re having a beer together. I thought, if we’re supposed to feel like we’re having a beer together, then I want to take you into my stories and I want you to experience them with the same joy that I’ve experienced them. That was the way that my friends have met my parents and Josh, as they’ve gotten to know them over the last 10 years.”
Penn says he is grateful that he has always had full support from his family and friends in all aspects of his life, but especially with regard to his relationship with Josh.
“I shared things with my parents and close friends first,” he says. “I know this sounds jokey, but it’s true: When you’ve already told your Indian parents and the South Asian community that you intend to be an actor for a living, really any conversations that come after that are super easy. They’re just like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ I felt very supported by everyone. That’s a wonderful thing. I know everybody has different experiences with that and so I definitely feel very fortunate.”
Penn shares, “I discovered my own sexuality relatively late in life compared to many other people. There’s no timeline on this stuff. People figure their s— out at different times in their lives, so I’m glad I did when I did.”
In the meantime, Penn is happily promoting his book and trying to plan a wedding.
“I really hope that people enjoy the book. I hope it makes people laugh and smile,” he says. “Obviously I am engaged to a man and our families will be there for the wedding. The big disagreement now is whether it’s a huge wedding or a tiny wedding. I want the big-ass Indian wedding. Josh, hates attention, [has said], ‘Or we could just do a quick 20-minute thing with our families and that’s it.’ So we have to meet halfway in the middle.”
Penn’s book, You Can’t Be Serious, is available now from Nov. 2.